Jean-Luc Godard’s controversial 1967 film Week End, is beyond a shadow of a doubt the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen and ever hope to see.
It is a frank, bitter, and darkly comic attack on the bourgeousie values of French society and the nightmarish political state of constant warfare that has plagued Europe, and the world, and hits the viewer right where it hurts: everywhere.
It opens with a couple discussing whether to commit murder, but they are dubious of each other and not to be trusted. Then we cut to a woman, sinking into a long monologue about a sexual encounter, which culminates with her having an egg cracked between her buttocks. She is unsure whether this encounter was real or a dream, but she seems unphased and undisturbed by it. Then we move to perhaps Godard’s most well-known, established and shocking shot… a seven minute tracking shot of a traffic jam. Godard’s Steadicam slowly moves through all the cars, capturing odd moments of senselessness, weird occurances, murder, and various other acts. The shot itself is difficult to sit through, and when it’s finished, I was flooded with relief, yet countless questions.
Week End is a film which raises more questions than it answers, with its incredibly over-the-top use of title cards at completely random times, many of them seemingly meaning nothing, as well as shots that seem to go on for incredibly long and fourth-wall breaking moments of poignant discussion, such as an incredibly long sequence in which politics is discussed in a frank and serious manner, yet so strongly opinionated and disagreeably that we realize Godard must be trying to tell us something, yet so little of it makes sense that it might as well be nothing.
My favourite shot in the film is an unbroken sequence in which the camera completes a 720 degree turn (that’s right, two full revolutions) around an area surrounded by vagrants, travellers and a strongly voiced pianist, before turning in the opposite direction and completing another 360 degree turn. Why couldn’t this all have been established in just one turn? Godard is trying to hammer into our heads a point that I still haven’t quite grasped, but its easy to see this film is the product of an angry, angry man with a passion for expression.
If my review sounds like I’m opposed to the film, I will clarify that that is untrue. This is my favourite film from Godard, and arguably one of the most expressive, shocking films of all time. Sitting through Pasolini’s Salo would be less disturbing than this, emotionally, and yet strangely I am drawn to it, like a painting or an image that’s impossible to decode, and yet I sit pondering it stoically and bravely.
I guess the simplest explanation would be that this is Godard’s view of society breaking down. Anyone can see that. There is a clear progression here from normality, to an eerie disturbance, to an annoying repetition and finally to a bleak, disturbing criticism of humanity. There is no morality in this film, and whatever real life that exists early on is quickly snuffed out. The film ends with the characters descending into cannabalism; living in the jungle like wild animals, yet not behaving wildly. They are calm, and when a woman asks for another piece of her husband to chew on, it is not in a malicious or urging tone, but one which simply accepts this is their life, this is normality, this is how the world should be, and finally we have reached a utopia.
This is how the characters see it though, not Godard. He sees these primitive animals as the exact opposite of utopian. It’s like a vision through to the future channelled through a nightmare Godard might have had, or simply through his observations of the wild reactions, behaviour and animalistic personalities we’re all sinking into under the guidance of fierce opinion (“Would you rather be fucked by Mao or Johnson?”), nonchalant atrocities (a supposed rape that is not seen, but overheard, or the cannabalism at the end), and endlessly staying rooted in the same position, such as in the traffic jam, while people pass you in the other lane, glancing over nonchalantly and unforgivingly, and ending up gone in an instant, leaving the rest of us in the same rut as we’ve all been sitting in, hoping that one day there will be some movement.
This review would not be complete without mentioning the nihilistic joke after the film has finished. The final title cards proclaim two things: the first is End of Film; the second is End of Cinema.